Road Worrier

Man pays $600 a month in fines for on-street parking convenience

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.comMay 15, 2012 

Michael A. Patterson's silver Jeep, parked on the 100 block of South Fayetteville Street on Friday May 11 2012.

BRUCE SICELOFF — bsiceloff@newsobserver.com

  • How much Raleigh pays to park City parking revenues for the 12 months that ended March 30: Parking meter collections$1.14 million Parking ticket payments, including late fees$1.93 million Boot fees (at $50 a car)$23,150 Misc. parking permits$24,937 Total$3.26 million The boot list The boot list includes every car with three or more tickets that are at least 90 days overdue. If one of these cars gets a new ticket, the city immobilizes it with a heavy steel boot until every old ticket is paid off – plus a $50 boot fee. The list changes every day. On May 4, the boot list included: 4,525 vehicles, most of them (3,933) owing $100 to $299 80 cars that owed at least $500 in tickets, including one with 49 tickets worth $1,800 19,629 tickets in all, worth $407,409 if they had been paid off within 21 days $381,482in late fees, for a total backlog of $788,891 in unpaid tickets A new way to collect In February, Raleigh started using the North Carolina debt setoff program to collect some tickets that have gone unpaid for at least 180 days. If the car owner has a state income tax refund due, the parking tickets are subtracted before the refund is paid out. Debt setoff parking ticket collections (February-April)$225,067 Source: Raleigh ParkLink

— Michael A. Patterson trudged up to his SUV on Friday afternoon as a Raleigh city parking agent cranked out an expired-meter ticket – the second one he had left on the silver Jeep’s windshield that day.

Patterson, 31, was cheerful and apologetic.

“Yeah, I got stuck in a training session and couldn’t get away,” he told the agent. “I’m well aware. I left it here, I get the ticket.”

Raleigh installed parking meters downtown in 2010 to open up some of the city’s most precious real estate: on-street parking spaces. The idea was to discourage some drivers – downtown workers, mostly – who hog the sweet spots all day. Shoppers and restaurant patrons want some of those convenient parking spaces, too.

Parking spots have time limits of 15 minutes to two hours. The meters cost $1 an hour. Most parking tickets will set you back $20, plus a $20 late fee if you don’t pay within 21 days. After you’ve collected a few tickets, maybe you’ll be ready to rent space in one of the public or private parking decks at $100 to $150 a month.

That’s the theory, anyway. But city records show that hundreds of drivers are willing to pay the price to park all day on Fayetteville and surrounding streets.

On a recent list of 4,525 vehicles with at least three tickets overdue by at least three months, there were 950 cars that had received two tickets on the same day, in the same spot, on at least two different dates.

Patterson’s Jeep sits on top of the heap.

On May 4, he owed Raleigh $1,800 for 49 tickets collected over three months, all in the 100 block of Fayetteville Street, in many cases two or three on the same day. That’s $600 per month for parking – four times the going rate for a vacant spot in the Alexander Square garage in that same block.

City officials say Patterson’s Jeep has been booted a couple of times – immobilized for nonpayment of tickets at least 90 days old. He is one of several drivers who have learned how to avoid getting booted again. He paid off his February tickets on May 8, leaving March 1 as the date of his oldest unpaid ticket.

That meant he would not hit the 90-day threshold for a parking boot, and a $50 boot fee, until June 1.

“He knows that as long as he’s not 90 days out, he’s good – most of the habitual offenders know that,” said Tina Overton, the city parking operations director. “And he’s a nice guy. He comes and pays his tickets. I’ve told him about Alexander Square, and I’ve told him about the city deck. But he doesn’t want any of them.”

Some downtown business owners like to keep their cars on the street, and they send employees out to feed the meter and watch for parking agents. They’re still likely to pick up parking tickets.

“They prefer to pay so they can have this convenience, rather than park in the deck,” said John M. Wynn, the assistant city parking administrator. “The ticketing is just our trying to keep people moving along. This isn’t our desire in life, to do this. Our desire is to keep the spaces open.”

Patterson said he wasn’t surprised to learn that he had racked up more unpaid parking tickets than anybody else in town. But he was embarrassed when the Road Worrier pointed out the crumpled tickets on the floor of his car.

“It’s just me running late for work and needing to park closer,” Patterson said. “I do pay them, a lot of them at once. I paid some last week. I just pay them in lumps.”

He declined to talk further or to say where he works on that block. By Monday afternoon, a check of the city website showed that Patterson had paid off all his tickets.

News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report

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